Form of Forms

It follows that the soul is analogous to the hand; for as the hand is a tool of tools, so the mind is the form of forms and sense the form of sensible things. – Aristotle, De Anima

I am absolutely indebted to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the book Allwisest Stagyrite: Joyce’s Quotations from Aristotle by University College Dublin professor Fran O’Rourke for the contents of this essay.

In keeping with Catholic tradition, I must open this post with a confession of guilt: I’ve avoided writing about Aristotle as much as possible on this blog because I really don’t understand him. I’ve been laboring away the last few months fully aware that I purposely skipped over the following sweet, juicy chunks of philosophy on page 25 of “Nestor” because not only did I have no idea what they meant, but I had no desire to do the research to find out:

It must be a movement then, an actuality of the possible as possible. Aristotle’s phrase formed itself within the gabbled verses and floated out into the studious silence of the library of Saint Genevieve where he had read, sheltered from the sin of Paris, night by night. By his elbow a delicate Siamese conned a handbook of strategy. Fed and feeding brains about me: under glowlamps, impaled, with faintly beating feelers: and in my mind’s darkness a sloth of the underworld, reluctant, shy of brightness, shifting her dragon scaly folds. Thought is the thought of thought. Tranquil brightness. The soul is in a manner all that is: the soul is the form of forms. Tranquility sudden, vast, candescent: form of forms.

I thought I got away with it, too. No one emailed me to ask why I skipped over that “form of forms” bit, so I thought my soul was free of the weight of guilt brought on by my own neglect.

But then, I came across this passage on page 44 of “Proteus”:

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James Joyce Ulysses Mr Deasy Nestor The Odyssey Homer

Ep. 19 – Fogey and Tory

C2aVdIPWQAEjHrT.jpgA character study of the infamous Mr. Deasy, the headmaster of Stephen’s school in “Nestor,” the second episode of Ulysses. We discuss how Mr. Deasy is a stereotypical Dubliner of his day, as well as his defining characteristics (including his impressive mustache!) Mr. Deasy has a lot to teach us, though he is an old wise man archetype with no wisdom. We talk lots of history and politics in this one! Also, Kelly reveals the worst Scooby Doo character.

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Maud Gonne

Maud Gonne, beautiful woman, La Patrie, M. Millevoye, Felix Faure, know how he died?

Maud Gonne’s name appears in Ulysses’ third episode, Proteus,  as Stephen rummages through his recollections of his brief sojourn in Paris. Though Gonne did reside in Paris in the early 1900’s, she never met James Joyce (or Stephen Dedalus), but their non-meeting had long lasting effects on James Joyce, though he may have never realized it.

The life of Maud Gonne is often told in close proximity to the men she knew, and since my blog is about James Joyce, her story will be framed by its brief overlap with Joyce’s. However, before we dive into that, I’d like to give space to her biography, warts and all.

Joyce and Maud Gonne never met, though Yeats provided her contact information to Joyce before he left for Paris in 1902. She was living in the city at the time and could be a helpful contact there. Joyce called on her, but was turned away by the concierge. Gonne was nursing her niece who was sick with diphtheria and was under a quarantine as a result. She wrote him a gracious apology letter and offered to meet him post-quarantine. Joyce, ever prickly, took this as a slight and never followed up, though it may have been due to embarrassment about his shabby appearance due to the extreme poverty he experienced during those months. It seems like an episode barely worth mentioning, but as we’ll see, it may have had some long-term consequences.

So, who exactly was Maud Gonne and why are we talking about her?

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Averroes, Maimonides, Ulysses, James Joyce

Ep. 17 – Averroes and Moses Maimonides

Kelly and Dermot tackle the reference to Averroes and Maimonides in “Nestor.” Not only does this episode cover these two philosophers and their connection to Aristotle, there’s also plenty of discussion on Morris dance, Giordano Bruno and the thematic importance of goth kids.

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James Joyce, Stephen Dedalus, Ulysses

Decoding Dedalus: Latin Quarter Hat

He dressed in black, a Hamlet without a wicked uncle…. – Richard Ellmann

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a passage of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 41-42 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “My Latin quarter hat.” and ends “…curled conquistadores.”

In December 1901, a young, determined James Joyce showed up in Paris to study medicine. There were other, more sensible courses of study he could have taken. Most obviously, he could have carried on at University College Dublin where he had done his undergraduate work. However, he couldn’t afford the fees, and the university had denied him work doing grinds (tutoring), which would have helped him earn money to pay his fees. There was no particularly compelling reason for Joyce to study medicine in Paris. In fact, he had some powerful connections (W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory) who were more than happy to call in favors and get him a position in Dublin or London as a writer. But no, Paris was the only option. He wrote to Lady Gregory that he would travel to Paris “alone and friendless,” that he must “try [himself] against the powers of the world.”

Richard Ellmann wrote that Joyce was provisionally allowed entrance into the École de Médecine at La Sorbonne, despite the fact that the term was mere weeks from ending. Joyce’s younger brother Stanislaus, on the other hand, said that when his brother arrived in Paris, the university didn’t recognize his undergrad degree from Ireland and that he would have had to pay all of his student fees in advance of study, still an issue for the Young Artist. Apparently, this information could have been ascertained while Joyce was still in Dublin. It was also not clear if a French medical degree would be valid in Ireland or if Joyce intended to practice medicine in France. Such setbacks would not turn our intrepid hero aside, however. He remained in Paris, as Stanislaus tells it, “with some undefined purpose, vaguely literary.”

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Ulysses James Joyce Kevin Egan

Decoding Dedalus: Wild Geese

In gay Paree he hides, Egan of Paris, unsought by any save by me.

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a passage of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 42 44 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “Noon slumbers.” and ends “Remembering thee, O Sion.”

The “Proteus” episode of Ulysses (chapter 3 for those of you keeping track at home) is organized around the themes and characters of the fourth book of Homer’s Odyssey, which deals with King Menelaus’ fraught return home following the Trojan War. Since Menelaus is the central figure in that story, it would be tempting to think that since Stephen Dedalus is the central figure in “Proteus,” he must also be our Joycean Menelaus. However, Menelaus’ role is filled by Kevin Egan, the Irish-revolutionary-turned-exile Stephen met during his brief sojourn in Paris, a character that never appears “on screen” in Ulysses, only in Stephen’s memories as he walks along Sandymount Strand, south of Dublin.

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La Vie de Léo Taxil

—Qui vous a mis dans cette fichue position?

—c’est le pigeon, Joseph.

Midway though “Proteus,” Stephen reminisces on his time as a medical student in Paris. Amongst those reminiscences, two names are nestled. First, on page 41 (Vintage International Edition):

But he must send me La Vie de Jesus by M. Leo Taxil. Lent it to his friend.

And later (pgs. 43, 50):

And Monsieur Drumont, gentleman journalist.

There’s not indication in the text of the link connecting these two men – Léo Taxil and Édouard Drumont. Though they have become obscure in the 21st century, their public personas likely shaped the worldview of a young Stephen Dedalus (and James Joyce).

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Mahamanvantara

I wouldn’t be [Joyce’s] Messiah for a thousand million pounds. He would always be criticising the bad taste of his deity.” – AE Russell

Hello, dear readers. Let’s have some fun with Sanskrit today. We’re in the thick of it now, deep into the darkest reaches of “Proteus,” the point where you think you’ve got a handle on things and then BAM. Sanskrit. The art of “Proteus” is philology, so I think we should embrace James Joyce’s penchant for linguistic whimsy and dive in. This one gets weird.

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Houses of Decay

The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.  – H.P. Lovecraft

James Joyce had a penchant for nesting obscure references in his writing that are indecipherable to nearly anyone who isn’t James Joyce (have you noticed?). There’s something appealingly stubborn about this style of writing – the writer communicating to their reader, “Look, I’m not going to throw you a branch. Either learn how to swim or enjoy drowning.” If you do learn to swim, though, there are rewards. Tucked into Stephen’s inner monologue in “Proteus” is a passage, obscure at first (naturally), that reveals the story of a Christian mystic, a W. B. Yeats short story and an obstinate young Artist:

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